On raising a Roo

Image credit: wikia

I have called Lillian ‘Little Roo’ ever since she was about three months old and started bearing weight on her legs. She wouldn’t just stand there, still; she would bounce, like a little kangaroo.

I am not raising a little princess. I am raising a Roo. My Roo, for those of you who don’t have the pleasure of knowing her, is already a hulk of a baby in the best possible ways. I do not have a stair gate: after she Lillian-smashed stair gate number three to the ground, I decided it was safer to not have one. My Roo sits in her high chair and eats her food herself, but if you try to feed her, she will shake her head, because my Roo is fiercely independent. She is smart: she has learned how to blow her nose already (warning to all non-parents out there: yes, there may come a time in your life where you find snot adorable); she imitates me putting on my shoes and getting my keys and bag in the mornings; she will high-five you and blow you kisses; she points to Baloo when you ask her “where’s the dog?” or even “où est le chien?”; and, lately, if you say to her “Lillian, time for bed!” she will march on up those stairs (accompanied, of course) and into the bathroom, where she waits for you to run her a bath. She is strong. She is sweet. She is snuggly. But she is anything but a princess.

Our beloved Disney sends little girls a few terrible messages about what being a ‘princess’ entails. Disney brings us the fair maiden who is awoken by true love’s kiss, and is literally dormant until she finds a man (Princess Aurora; Snow White). Disney brings us the lovesick soul who teaches us that if we can’t find love, all we need to do is change who we are (Ariel). Disney teaches us that villains are unusual-looking or downright ugly (Ursula; Cruella de Vil; Maleficent) and princesses are beautiful. In a world where our young children are already being bombarded with messages of the value of beauty above all else, those Disney movies that we all know and love are in the background, presenting these beautiful princesses as valuable because of (and sometimes only because of) their beauty. Even when the uglier characters are not villains, they do not fare well. Roo and I watched The Hunchback of Notre Dame last weekend. I remembered it as being a story of the ugly guy saving the kingdom and getting the gal. It is not: it is a story of the ugly guy saving the kingdom and directly saving the girl’s life three times, and watching, heartbroken, as she chooses the handsome man in (literal) shining armour. Is that really what we want our children to learn?

I do not mean that Lillian won’t be allowed to watch Disney as she grows up. Disney movies are magical, wonderful things, and there certainly are some good lessons that can be learned from Disney, too. Quasimodo is presented to us as ugly, but he does go on to save the day. He is happy at the end of the movie, showing us that there are more important things in life than love. Mulan brings her family honour not by pleasing the matchmaker, but by forging her way into the military and saving China. Jasmine refuses to marry for anything other than love, rejecting the suitors her father chooses. Pocahontas brings peace to two warring peoples. Lillian can watch whatever movie she wants to, but I hope that it is these princesses that she favours, not their spineless “fair maiden” sisters.

It is so very important to me that Lillian grows up with a healthy concept of what beauty is, because I of all people know how an unhealthy fixation on beauty can spread in the mind like a sickness, until it completely consumes you. It is no secret at this point how badly I struggled with this in college, and I was one of the lucky ones: I got help, and I got better. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t on my mind anymore; only this time I worry not about my size, but about Lillian. If she doesn’t want to eat her vegetables, should I force her, or will that lead her to develop negative connotations towards eating? When she gets old enough to understand, should I encourage her to exercise, or will she interpret that as “dear, you are fat”, as I did? Should I hide it from her if I ever want to lose some weight I’ve gained? These are the questions that go through your mind when you don’t want your child to face the same demons you did.

These are the questions that go through your mind when you are raising a little girl in a world that treats women like this:

That is why I do not call my sweet girl ‘princess’. This is why, although I am convinced, of course, that she is the most beautiful child on this earth, I try to remind myself not to say things like “who’s my beautiful little girl?”. Instead, although she is too young to understand, I tell her she is smart. I tell her she is funny. I tell her she is strong. I tell her she is fabulous. If I can raise her to know that all of those things are far, far more important than her beauty, I will have done something right.

You see, this world has enough princesses. I’m raising a Roo.

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